Sandwiches can be a simple, yet delicious lunch, dinner or snack. But what about the processed meats—ham, turkey slices, and bologna—they’re traditionally filled with? One concern with deli meats is their high sodium content and added nitrates and nitrites (see Limit Processed Meats.) However, today many products are made with lower levels of sodium, and without the aid of added nitrates and nitrites, making them a wholesome filling for a sandwich you can really sink your teeth into. Keep in mind, though, that you’re best off turning to fresh, sliced meats rather than processed meats, so consume the latter in moderation.
Limit Processed Meats
Several studies have linked red meat—in particular processed meat, such as ham, salami, and pepper-oni—with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and heart disease. Some experts hypothesize that this rise in disease risk may be partially due to added sodium nitrite or nitrates, which are preservatives used in processing meat. Nitrites and nitrates have been shown to possibly increase one’s risk of certain chronic diseases. While the research isn’t strong enough to know for sure whether these additives are harmful, some health organizations, including the American Institute for Cancer Research and Harvard School of Public Health, recommend that you avoid processed meats in your diet.
Helpful hints. Consider these tips before creating your sandwich masterpiece.
- Think thin. If you want a sandwich you can really sink your teeth into, look for meats labeled “ultra thin.” A sandwich made with 2 ounces of regularly sliced meat may seem pretty skimpy, but the same amount of thinly sliced meat can be draped into a nice mound.
- Check portions. When comparing labels don’t forget to compare portions. The serving listed for most deli meats is 2 ounces, however, some are listed as only 1 ounce. At first glance, the nutritional profile may look great, until you realize that it’s for half as much meat.
- Pile the veggies on. To help create a satisfying meal out of a sandwich, think beyond the bread and meat. Add fiber-rich vegetables like lettuce, tomato, peppers, and shredded carrots to bulk up your sandwich and add important nutrients.
- Switch your spread. Instead of traditional mayo on your sandwich consider mustard, salsa, mashed avocado, or hummus. You’ll cut the fat, and boost healthy fat and fiber.
—Heidi McIndoo, MS, RD
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